QuickBooks Online vs. Xero – What’s Best for Creative Startups?

If you’re a hobbyist who suddenly found the time to dive into a side hustle or launch a work from home startup due to COVID, congratulations! Whether you’ve finally decided to sell your Photoshop skills or maybe you’ve recently discovered a talent for commercial knitting, it’s exciting to explore new ways to earn some cash.

Before you get too excited, let me bring you back down to earth a little, as someone who’s been doing this for years. Starting a creative business isn’t just about indulging your passion. You need to be willing to do the boring stuff too – tracking invoices, collecting fees, paying taxes, keeping records, managing cash flow, you get the idea. You can roll your eyes at these tasks all you want, but at the end of the day, you still need to do them for your business to be more than just a hobby.

This is where web-based accounting software solutions come in handy. These tools make all that accounting stuff easier to digest for even the most clueless business newbie. And since they’re cloud-based, they make bookkeeping on the go a breeze.

Two of the most popular solutions out in the market are QuickBooks Online and Xero. Created with small- to medium-sized businesses in mind, they’re useful for everything from your humble knitting biz with a grand total of one staffer to creative agencies with a sturdier team of 10. They’re also popular with accountants, so if you have an accountant, they’ll be able to help you maximise your use of the tool.

Both QuickBooks Online and Xero offer different monthly plans with feature sets that scale up, depending on the size of your biz.

Now before we get down to discussing which is the better choice, let’s learn more about these two.

What is QuickBooks?

US-based software company Intuit first introduced QuickBooks Online in 2001, in addition to a desktop version.

QuickBooks Online offers a plethora of perks for small businesses. It allows you to track sales and expenses and monitor your cash flow at a glance. It lets you create invoices and pay bills on a schedule. It creates reports to help you get your records in order. It aligns with other tools you use through third-party integrations. It also boasts expense tracking and receipt matching features that help you maximise tax deductions, so it’s a good friend to have come tax time.

What is Xero?

Founded in 2006 in New Zealand, Xero offers web-based software with no desktop version, thus specifically targeting users who need the convenience of an online platform.

Like QuickBooks Online, it offers many useful features for new business owners. You can send out online invoices to your customers, reconcile your bank transactions, integrate with third-party apps you use for your business, handle payroll and monitor your financial status wherever the pandemic finds you.

Both are solid choices. So which should you choose?

I asked Jimmy Nguyen, accountant and partner at DKM Accounting, to weigh in with his pick. You may have seen him marching determinedly along with “The Entourage” in Quickbooks’ TV ad – which is, of course, a dead giveaway. But Jimmy has his reasons.

“I find many creatives using QuickBooks Online as their go-to bookkeeping platform,” says Jimmy. “It’s easy to use and wickedly intuitive.”

“Offering real-time customer support as well as a mobile app that allows on-the-go record keeping, I can see why it’s the go-to for many creative firms.”

Below, Jimmy lists three areas where QuickBooks edges out the competition to get his vote.

QuickBooks wins for its simple, customisable interface

Both Xero and QuickBooks Online have good-looking dashboards that give you everything you need to know in one glimpse — sales, expenses, bank accounts, invoices, bills and more.

While Xero has a refined, minimalist layout that really elevates user experience, Quickbooks Online’s charm is in the simplicity of its look and customisability of its functions. QuickBooks presents you with a clean dashboard that doesn’t bowl you over with too many functions all at once. The more complex functions are still there; you just need to unlock them for them to appear.

QuickBooks wins for its intuitive mobile app

Both tools have excellent mobile apps that allow users to manage their business wherever they are – a must for creatives whose work may find them often out of the house. But QuickBooks Online trumps the competition with more features in its mobile app. Among these are profit and loss and balance sheet reporting and GPS and location-based prefilling for the tablet version.

QuickBooks wins for its real-time customer support

QuickBooks Online offers email, phone and live chat customer support for all of their plans, plus a comprehensive support page with forums, FAQs, tutorials and more.

Meanwhile, customer support for Xero largely means email support and a help portal you have to explore yourself—phone support is only offered as a last resort. To be fair, the help portal is comprehensive, but if you’re a newbie fumbling through a new platform who needs immediate answers, an email might not cut it.

In the end, both QuickBooks Online and Xero do a stellar job of helping a fledgling creative entrepreneur such as yourself make sense of your finances. I suggest taking advantage of the free trial to really see which one gels with you and your needs. But either way you go, you’re a legend for making the most out of this uncertain time.

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